I know what you’re thinking: the Oilers blogosphere definitely needs another article about our defensive situation. But mostly, those articles have been focused on the addition of our new Swedish stud (yes, I’m calling him a stud already) Adam Larsson, and how the “upper echelons” of the d-core will look going forward. I don’t think there’s too much debate left about what our top-2 looks like next season. Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson should have no problem anchoring our back-end for many years to come. (Provided they both stay healthy, of course. #PrayForKlefbomsFoot.)
Perhaps even the top-4 isn’t too hard to predict, either. Andrej Sekera’s numbers proved last season that he’s a perfectly serviceable top-4 d-man who, through necessity, was pushed into a top-2 role. He also had a penchant for scoring cool O-ver-TIIIIIIME winners. His individual production wasn’t anything to write home about in general, really, but his shot generation and productive possession was fantastic (RelCF/60: 3.95, and RelCD/60: 3.36 respectively). So that’s the left side shored up. As far as the right side muddle pair goes, there are about 3.625 million reasons why one would reasonably expect Mark Fayne to live there. According to the numbers, though, I firmly expect Brandon Davidson to be the guy.
Can you see any category in which Mark Fayne is more clearly a top-4 defenceman than Brandon Davidson? I’m squinting real hard and I just can’t do it. In fact, the harder I look, the more I see Davidson hitting top-pairing status sooner rather than later if his trajectory even kind of holds course.
So who does that leave us with for the bottom pair? Fayne, obviously, unfortunately. I don’t really like the guy, and I think he’s unforgivingly overpaid, but he’s not useless, and I’m sure I’ll end up eating my words once he starts only taking up bottom-pairing minutes. He’ll probably pull a Jultz and end up playing half-decently. (This just in: defencemen look better with limited minutes and when playing within their skill role, not being force-fed minutes because of injuries and wishful thinking. More at 12.) Fayne won’t be putting up big numbers; he’s a shutdown guy through and through. But his shot suppression is workable at a RelCA/60 of -0.73, and he has the years of experience to know basically where he should be most of the time.
And for the left side? I’m throwing my lot in with Jordan Oesterle. There’s a common school of thought in creating defensive pairings that the limitations of particular defenders should compliment each other. In this case, Oesterle’s offence shows incredible promise (with admittedly a smallish sample size) in individual production (his PP/60 is 0.68) and productive possession (RelCD/60 of 4.61). He sits a full 2 points higher in CF% (47), and has a relative WOWY spread of only -2% rather than -5%, when compared with Darnell Nurse and Griffin Reinhart. We saw at the end of last season how composed Oesterle looked in his first passes and zone exits, and at least to my eyes, he never really looked out of his element in whatever situation in which TMac placed him.
Where does this leave Darnell Nurse and Griffin Reinhart? Nursey I’d like to see have a full season or two unencumbered by NHL duties in the A, bulking up his tall frame, playing tough minutes, and refining the specifics of his game. He needs to decide just what kind of a defenceman he’s going to be. We saw him last season toy around with a quick, attacking defensive style, taking it upon himself to carry pucks deep and try to create offence. We saw him go the goon route and pretty convincingly beat the shit out of a few unfortunate opposition tough guys. Can he be all of it? Man, I hope so! He’s got all the tools and seemingly all the drive and desire in the world to do it. But he’s never going to be able to get there if he’s being used up with ridiculous minutes and being put in situations no reasonable first-or-second-year d-man really should be.
As for Griffin, I don’t even know, guys. He’s just… not very good… at the hockeys. Maybe he has big potential, maybe he doesn’t. But I’d rather see the Oilers organization focus their growth and development efforts into their young guns like Davidson, Oesterle, Nurse, and Bear who have at least shown flashes of brilliance in some category or another, rather than a guy who we only ever hear about having potential.